There's progress a year after Pratt exposed gaps in gun seizures, but 'much more to be done'

  • A year after a workplace shooting spree left six dead at Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, state police say they're making progress closing the loophole that allowed the shooter to keep his gun even after the state revoked his right to possess it.

      A year after a workplace shooting spree left six dead at Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, state police say they're making progress closing the loophole that allowed the shooter to keep his gun even after the state revoked his right to possess it. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2019

 
Posted2/14/2020 5:30 AM

Illinois State Police faced harsh criticism last year when it was revealed the agency knew the gunman behind the mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora shouldn't have had access to a firearm but did nothing beyond sending him a letter -- nearly five years earlier -- telling him to turn it in.

The case exposed a weakness in the state's system of background checks and gun forfeitures that allowed, by some estimates, more than 30,000 gun owners to hold on to their firearms after losing their legal right to possess them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

State police leaders said Thursday that they're making progress in getting guns away from the most dangerous of those people but admit they have a long way to go.

"There is still much more to be done," state police Director Brendan Kelly said during a news conference in Springfield. "Without additional resources for state and local law enforcement, the chances still remain too high that more tragedies will occur."

What happened

A day after the Feb. 15, 2019, shooting, authorities confirmed that the gunman, a 45-year-old Aurora man, had been convicted in 1995 of felony aggravated assault in Mississippi.

That should have kept him from obtaining a Firearm Owner's Identification card -- necessary to purchase a gun or ammunition in Illinois -- in January 2014. But the conviction didn't turn up on an initial background check.

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It wasn't until weeks later, when the gunman applied for a concealed carry permit, that the conviction raised a red flag.

State police then sent the shooter a letter instructing him to turn over any firearms, but there's no record of any law enforcement agency following up when he didn't.

Nearly five years later, the man used his .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun to murder five co-workers and injure several others, including five police officers, at Henry Pratt.

So what's been done in the 12 months since Pratt?

Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly, speaking here in 2019, said Thursday state police are working hard to fix the weaknesses exposed last year by the mass shooting at Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, but "we've got a lot more to do."
  Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly, speaking here in 2019, said Thursday state police are working hard to fix the weaknesses exposed last year by the mass shooting at Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, but "we've got a lot more to do." - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Kelly said state police since May have conducted 200 "revocation details" to take weapons away from gun owners whose FOID cards have been revoked or shouldn't have been issued. The details, he said, are focusing on people seen as potential threats, not otherwise law-abiding citizens who forgot to renew or moved and didn't notify the state of an address change.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Those efforts and others have led to a doubling of the number of guns being taken from or surrendered by people who shouldn't have them.

In 2018, Kelly said, a little more than 2,000 firearm disposal reports were filed with the state, signifying a gun that had either been seized, turned in or turned over to a person legally entitled to possess it.

Last year, there were 4,562 reports filed, Kelly said.

"By any measure, that's an improvement," he said. "Is it good enough? Hell, no. We've got a lot more to do."

What's next

Doing more, Kelly said, will require more resources from the state legislature -- namely money to hire more people.

State police also are backing Senate Bill 1966, aka the Fix the FOID Act.

Among other things, it would raise the fee for a FOID card, shorten its expiration from 10 to five years, require background checks for private gun sales and require anyone applying for a FOID card to submit fingerprints.

"Fingerprints catch bad guys," Kelly said.

Moving on up?

Reports in Chicago media this week linked Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman to the open Chicago police superintendent's job, naming her as one of the leading candidates for the post.

Is Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman a leading candidate for the Chicago police superintendent's job?
  Is Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman a leading candidate for the Chicago police superintendent's job? - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2019

We asked Ziman about it Thursday, but she said she couldn't comment on another department's job search.

"But whomever they choose has a mighty mission and should be honored to serve the CPD and city of Chicago," she said.

Insurance industry weighs in

Last week we told you about a Southwest suburban lawmaker's bill in the state legislature that would protect the life insurance coverage of police officers, first responders, health care professionals and others who carry the overdose-reversing drug naloxone as part of their jobs.

Some workers in other states have seen their rates increase, or been denied coverage altogether, after obtaining the drug that's seen as a crucial tool in the fight against the opioid crisis.

Our column caught the eyes of people at the American Council of Life Insurers, who reached out to let us know they support the measure by state Rep. Margo McDermed, a Mokena Republican.

In an earlier blog post sent to us, the group's Jack Dolan wrote that while a naloxone prescription will raise a red flag and prompt questions from insurance companies, it shouldn't keep those who obtain it for work from being insured.

"Denials based solely on the existence of a prescription for naloxone are a thing of the past," Dolan writes.

"Life insurers have become fully aware of the outstanding efforts of good Samaritans, friends and family members of people struggling with the addiction. Insurers have been diligently educating their staffs about the issue and updating their application review processes."

• Have a question, tip or comment? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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